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Prepare for College with these 10 Helpful Resources
Standout College Websites with Advice, Planning, and Financial Aid
You don't need to pay hundreds of dollars for college planning courses. There are many excellent websites that can help you with life after high school and all parts of college planning.
Practice for the SAT, ACT, or PSAT. Choose a college OR have a college apply to YOU. Submit your college application online. Get tips on writing college application essays. Learn about extracurricular activities that can help. Participate in forums where you can learn from other parents and students who've been-there-done-that.
A few of the sites below offer other fee-based services. I point you to the parts of their websites that have valuable free services to help you or your child.
And while many websites provide lots of different types of college services, most excel in just a few areas. I describe which features of each website are likely to be the most helpful to you.
The information on these sites will help you make very well informed decisions about your or your child's college preparation needs and choices. It's never too soon to start. Look through the four-year planner at EducationPlanner.org as soon as your kid is a high school freshman. And you can start saving for your child's college using Upromise at any time -- the earlier, the better!
College Student Aid
More Funding for Pell Grants and Revised Student Loan Provisions
Recent changes to federal laws and regulations provide for more federal college student loans instead of private bank loans. This is estimated to save $68 billion over the next several years in the cost of attending college, and it will help ease the pressure funding college for you and your children. For complete details, go to the Federal Student Aid website. Here's what's key:
- There will be more PELL grants available.
- The federal government will give and administer student loans instead of banks.
- Income-based repayment (IBR) plan - If your student loan debt is high relative to your income and family size, your loan payments can be income-adjusted to 10% of your income, if you choose.
- Public service workers such as teachers and nurses pay for up to 10 years, then the rest of the loan is forgiven. Everyone else makes payments up to 20 years, then the rest of the loan is forgiven.
by American Education Systems
EducationPlanner.org is a comprenhsive resource for all aspects of college planning. This is the place to go if you or your child needs assistance to:
- Decide on a career path
- Choose a college
- Apply to colleges
- Test for college
- Find financial assistance and scholarships
- Keep track of what to do and when
Starting in the freshman year, the high school timeline checklist provides a broader overview of tasks your child should undertake during each of the next four years to prepare for college.
Another standout tool is the interactive Career Key. It incorporates your child's interests and personality, using Holland Types, to suggest several career paths. There's also a database of careers and descriptions to help your child learn about various careers' requirements for experience, knowledge, skills and abilities, and their salary prospects.
Federal Student Aid at Ed.gov
by U.S. Department of Education
This site is designed with the asssistance of students who have gone through the process, and know the types of information most needed by students. The emphasis is on breaking down the process so it is not overwhelming, and on providing inspiration.
Education.gov provides guidance for parents and teachers as well. There are links to excellent free government resources. These resources are designed to help parents guide their children through college preparation and financing.
Inspirational Stories of Finding the Right College
Getting to the college goal line is a process of identifying your passions, finding colleges that match those passions, and making yourself stand out from the crowd when applying to the college(s) you want.
These inspirational stories illustrate how to get it done... whether your goal is Harvard or the local state college, whether you're an average student or the straight-A National Honor Society member.
U.S. Department of Education
For an impartial and thorough college search, try the College Navigator. The U.S. Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics has created this website to provide a comprehensive database of colleges.
When you register, you can build a list of schools you wish to consider, do side-by-side comparisons, and export your customized results to a spreadsheet. Your session, with the options and choices you make, can be saved on the site for future reference as well.
Your search criteria can include specific states, distance from a specified zip code, type of degree offered, public or private institution, and major(s).
There's also a link to the site for Free Application for Federal Student Aid, FAFSA, the premier site for student financial assistance.
Peterson's College Planner
by Peterson's, a Nelnet Company
Peterson's College Planner has tools for college planning, finding a school, test prep, and scholarships and loans.
This site's biggest strength is the Prepare for Tests section. They offer a variety of materials and online services for a price.
But before you pay... you'll see that they offer a FREE full-length practice test for SAT, ACT and PSAT/NMSQT. Other tests available for a fee include AP and SAT subject area. There's also lots of good test-taking tips and strategies.
by Cappex.com, LLC
Cappex takes a different approach to your college search. You fill out a profile and contact information on their website, including interests, desired major, high school activities, GPA, etc. Then the colleges come looking for you.
You choose which colleges can contact you to "recruit" you as a perspective student. There are more than 1,700 public and private colleges and universities registered with the Cappex system. The site is fairly new, but already nearly 900 colleges have contacted students.
A great forum for parents and students
The most active discussion forum for all kinds of college issues and advice is College Confidential. The main strength of the site is that most of the information found here is compiled by users of the site -- from the forums to the college visits and reviews.
The main forums include college admissions and search, pre-college issues (including high school), professional and graduate school, and the website community. There are a couple million posts and hundreds of topics.
High school parents and students will find lots of valuable tips and advice from others who have preceded you. Topics on test prep, financial aid, college admissions and search are among the most popular.
It's not just the contributions of students and parents that make this site worthwhile. College Confidential has also written several articles and provided links to still more on topics ranging from college rankings to financial aid.
from Sallie Mae
College funding options are not limited to just scholarships and loans. You can join UPromise and save for college. It offers parents, family members and friends a way to help fund a child's college education through their daily purchases.
After you register on the Upromise website, your use the participating merchants, local grocers and restaurants. A current list of participating merchants and the percentage of your purchase they contribute to your child's Upromise account is shown here. You can keep the money in the Upromise account or transfer it to a partnered 529 account.
If your child is already in college, you can still participate. The money in the account can be used to pay down a qualifying student loan or to pay for college expenses.
The earlier you sign up, the more savings you accumulate. I've used it for my daughter for 12 years and have more than $4,500 in deposits and investment dividends -- just by using store and online merchants, grocers and restaurants I patronize regularly.
The savings can be tremendously more significant if you invite relatives and friends to participate. Again, it costs them nothing extra. When they register and designate your child as the receiver, purchases they make will also result in savings deposits to your child's Upromise account.
ScholarshipExperts.com is arguably the best college scholarship search engine available online. It has been recommended by Forbes and the California Student Aid Commission.
Youregister and fill out an extensive questionnaire so you can find scholarships appropriate to your situation. I recommend you opt out of marketing emails, affiliates and third party offers.
For all the hard work up front, though, you are rewarded with a list of scholarships tailored to your child's eligibility requirements. Quite a time saver in the end.
FinAid! Financial Aid, College Scholarships and Student Loans
by FinAid.org, a Monster Company
FinAid! excels at describing in detail the types of financial aid, scholarships and loans available to students.
There are tips on filling out FAFSA, descriptions of the most widely used loan programs, information on savings and section 529 college savings plans, and a guide to military student aid.
You can also access a wide array of financial calculators for college cost projection, savings plans' yields, loan payments, needs analysis and budgeting.
In a section titled Beyond Financial Aid, there are links to other student services offered by Monster, Inc. If you're looking for a job or internship, try their link to MonsterTrak.com.
for college students looking for government internships and recent college graduates
There's nothing like on-the-job training and experience to help your child earn money, test drive a career, and add to a resume. USAJOBS.gov is an excellent place for college and graduate students to search for internships that will help them gain that experience.
There are more than 27,000 jobs to search through by location and occupation. Students can apply, post their resumes online, and receive automated job alerts when they create a free online account.